Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sermon for Christ the King

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 

Christ the King is a relatively new feast in the church calendar.

It was introduced by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to remind Christians at the time that their allegiance was to Christ rather than their earthly rulers.

We need to remember what was happening in 1925.
Europe was recovering from World War 1.
The war was the result of rampant nationalism.
At the end of the war, the national boundaries in Europe and in the African colonies were redrawn,
with the victors claiming the spoils, the vanquished handing over land and money.

We know where this led: the rise of Fascism and even more nationalist fervour in the nations that had been defeated.

In 1925, this took the shape of Mussolini and the fascist ideology, which would be taken up by Hitler and the Nazis in Germany.
In this, nationhood and race became the governing ideals to much misery, suffering, and death.

They were ideals of who was in or who was out.
Those who were in were safe as long as they bowed down to the state,
and those who were out were ejected either by deportation or death.

Ideas that were the opposite of Christ.

It was into this that Christ the King as a feast was introduced.

Nearly one hundred years later, the world has changed a great deal.
Sort of.

It has changed in the sense that the instruments of power of different. Similar tyranny exists, but it is far more subtle.

The idea of King does not have the same power of meaning as it did.
The idea of nation does not have the same power of meaning as it did.
The idea of political governance does not have the same power of meaning as it did.

Think about it.
In 1925, young men would risk their lives for King and Country.

The wars that are being fought now are guided by a different ideology.
Young men still go and fight, but not for king or country.
If we are brutally honest, wars are now fought for oil companies and weapons manufacturers.
A lot of propaganda goes into making these wars look like they are about national sovereignty and safety,
but that assumes it is governments who are making the decisions.

In the 21st century the name Christ the King doesn’t have the same power as it did in 1925.

It is true that Jesus is spoken of throughout the Bible as a King:
King of Israel,
King of the Jews,
King of Kings,
King of the Ages,
Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.

The idea is still as powerful, and is just as true, as it was and will be forever more.
Christ is the one to whom we will show our allegiance to.

The problem is the language and the change in power structures in our time.

It is not kings or presidents or prime ministers that rule our world.
The democratic system is gradually showing itself to be a fraud that doesn’t represent anyone other than the wealthy elite.
The world is gradually becoming controlled by multinational corporations, so much to the point that a corporation can sue a country if it feels that that country’s laws may harm their profitability.

The reason I am going on about this is to give context to what the feast originally meant, so we can recontextualise it for today.

As the Feast was originally to remind Christians about who their allegiance was to be given in the context of what it should not be given to, today we need to examine what are the competing ism’s for our allegiance.

It used to be nationalism, or communism, or fascism.

Today it is trickier.

The only real ism is capitalism, and we all, the church, the entire world is controlled by this ism.
Materialism and greed are the isms that have our allegiance,
whether we like it or not.

The church doesn’t compete with world leaders or philosophies,
but rather is lost in a sea of marketing, branding, logos and meaningless product placements.

In a world where image and brand and product are dominant,
Christ does truly offer something different.

When Christ the King was introduced the idea of King worked as an attractive alternative.
Now it is different.
Now that idea has no cultural relevancy.
The meaning is true and correct, but the idea and the name are neither strong nor big enough for today’s world.

The letter to the Colossians was written at the time of the Roman Empire.
The general thrust of the letter is to remind the early believers of their true calling:
to follow Christ, not the pagan religions or the Empire.

The reading from Colossians this morning gives us a more cosmic understanding of rulership:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
—all things have been created through him and for him. 

I’ll finish with a reading from Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. They reconfigure this reading to speak about the rulership of today’s world.

In an image-saturated world,
        a world of ubiquitous corporate logos
            permeating your consciousness
        a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations
            in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted
            to be able to dream of life otherwise
        a world in which the empire of global economic affluence
            has achieved the monopoly of our imaginations
        in this world
    Christ is the image of the invisible God
        in this world
            driven by images with a vengeance
    Christ is the image par excellence
        the image above all other images
        the image that is not a facade
        the image that is not trying to sell you anything
        the image that refuses to co-opt you
    Christ is the image of the invisible God
        the image of God
            a flesh-and-blood
            in time and history
            with joys and sorrows
            image of who God is

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